US senate to hold hearing on Express Scripts deal

Tue Oct 18, 2011 4:49pm EDT

Oct 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee said on Tuesday it would hold a hearing on Express Script's planned purchase of pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health Solutions Inc .

The deal, announced in July, would combine two of the three U.S. pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) that are large enough to manage prescription drug benefits for nationwide companies. The merged company would control nearly one-third of the market.

The hearing will likely be in November, but no date has been set and no witnesses have been announced, spokeswoman Lynn Becker said.

The panel will look at such issues as whether after the merger savings on the cost of drugs would be passed on to customers, and if the merger would remove the competitive impetus for the companies to offer services through community pharmacies, two congressional staffers said.

"Is this the rare kind of merger where you like more consolidation because you have more buying power?" said one of the staffers, who was not authorized to speak on the record. "(Or) going back to the basics, are these three PBMs -- for a large employer -- really the only game in town?"

The deal is already being examined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which looks at some mergers to make sure they comply with antitrust law. A group of about two dozen state attorneys general are also looking at it.

An antitrust subcommittee at the House of Representatives has also held hearings to discuss the deal, although congressional hearings will have no formal effect on the legal antitrust review.

Community and specialty pharmacists have complained to the FTC about the deal. One of their concerns is that Medco and Express Scripts may push their customers to get their drugs by mail. There have also been complaints that the PBMs unfairly pressure doctors and patients to switch to their own in-house pharmacies.

Express Scripts declined to comment on the hearings.

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